MLB Hall of Fame: Edgar Martinez vs. Frank Thomas

2015 MLB Hall of Fame ballots have begun trickling in of late, and that always comes with some controversy and argumentations. There are a few guys who most can agree are worthy of going in — Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz included — but most of the candidates have been and will continue to be the subjects of heated internet debates. Some of them are warranted, others are not.

One candidate who appears to be on the outside looking in at this point lifetime Mariner Edgar Martinez. It would be understandable if the crowded ballot is what was keeping him out, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, or at least solely so. Those who feel he is undeserving — or at least less deserving than others — seem to feel that way because he spent most of his career as a designated hitter. Some don’t think DH’s in general are Hall worthy because they don’t play defense.

I am not one to say defense doesn’t matter, or undervalue it in any way. It does matter, in general. But I am more concerned with overall value than any specific aspect, and Edgar hit more than enough to overcome his lack of defensive value.

Beyond that, as much as people like to ignore it, first ballot Hall of Famer Frank Thomas spend the majority of his time at DH as well. Not as much as Edgar, but still a majority. Edgar played in 2055 games in his career, and started 561 of them in the field, mainly at 3rd base. That’s about 27% of his games played in the field. Thomas played 2322 games in the bigs, and 969 of those came while playing the field, or about 42%.

Obviously 42 is greater than 27, but it is still a minority of his playing time. So where do we draw the line? Why is it okay for someone to be a DH 60% of the time, and get in on their first ballot no less, but 70% is too much for a majority of the voters to get past, three years in to his eligibility? These kinds of inconsistencies and subjectivities — along with the blatant snubs or unwarranted inductions and problems with the voting process — are reasons why I personally have trouble caring all that much about the Hall of Fame anymore, but still, I argue.

So, how can one decide where to draw that line? I mean, if we want to be technical, Thomas was more of a DH than he was a 1st baseman throughout his career, but people don’t seem to worry about that because of their preconceived notions and perceptions.

This isn’t to say Thomas shouldn’t be in the Hall. He absolutely is a Hall of Famer. But so is Edgar Martinez.

Let’s take a look at some of their career numbers side-by-side:

Frank Thomas100755210.2540.4190.555154-34.7656.5-267.472.4
Edgar Martinez86783090.2040.4180.515147-20.9500.6-133.565.6


Thomas was a better hitter overall, and compiled more value for his career. His 154 wRC+ ranks 19th all-time among hitters with at least 5000 plate appearances, as he was able to post a career OBP well over .400 and SLG% over .550, which is not at all common. But Edgar was no slouch either, as his 147 wRC+ ranks 31st all-time, and he too posted an OBP and SLG% over .400 and .500 respectively.

And, interestingly, looking at Fangraphs’ Def values, Thomas provided less defensive value than Edgar did. Both were very much negative in that regard, but Thomas was about twice as bad and is third worst all-time in that category. Edgar may not have contributed in the field very much, but that shouldn’t hurt his value outright. By not playing defense at all, he didn’t cost his team as many runs as Thomas did by trying to fake it out there.

By Wins Above Replacement, Thomas’ 72.4 comes in at 51st all-time. Edgar’s 65.6 falls in at 83rd. They aren’t very far apart at all, with the difference being about 7 wins. Again, Edgar was probably not as good of a player as Thomas, but he doesn’t have to be. Thomas is 7 wins better and earns a first ballot nod (if you are one to worry about that), but Edgar seems to be a long ways away? That doesn’t quite jive.

And, we have to consider that Edgar had 1400 fewer plate appearances than Thomas and was still only 7 wins shy. If we extrapolate Edgar to the same 10075 chances, he takes the lead on Thomas at about 76 wins. Now, we can’t give him credit for games he didn’t play or hits he didn’t have, and less service time is not at all a positive, but on a per-PA basis, Edgar was as good or better than Thomas.

I think after all of this, it is painfully clear that Edgar Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame. He should already be in by my estimations, but better late than never I suppose. I think he has a shot to get in later on, especially if they make modifications to the voting system. But even then, it would be a shame to see him get inducted 10 years down the road when he had been out of the game for so long, simply because the voters were too stubborn or ignorant to vote for him.